The museum

The museum

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Cypriot Bichrome Ware amphora (MU 3757).

About the Museum of Ancient Cultures

The Museum of Ancient Cultures is a leading museum of Macquarie University which supports a range of museums, collections, art galleries, a sculpture park and herbarium.

It is an archaeological museum that introduces modern minds to a number of cultures from the ancient world through its research and publications, learning, teaching and outreach programs, its displays and exhibitions and its involvement in the activities of the University.

The Museum of Ancient Cultures was originally founded in 1974 as the Ancient History Teaching Collection (AHTC). Various members of staff, including the late Mr Graham Joyner, Emeritus Professor Edwin Judge and Emeritus Professor Bruce Harris were eager to see the development of such a collection.

In 1994, following the completion of Building X5B, with a tailor-made space for the Ancient History Teaching Collection, its name was changed to the Museum of Ancient Cultures. At the time, a national committee was investigating the situation of Australian university museums, and they strongly supported the idea of this name change to reflect what they saw as the proper status of Macquarie's archaeological collection as a museum. The work of this, and a subsequent, committee, was published as Cinderella Collections (1996) and Transforming Cinderella Collections (1998), which formed the basis of an international movement to identify and recognize the role and work of university museums, collections and herbaria. In turn, this culminated in the formation of UMAC, a subcommittee of ICOM. Macquarie University and the Museum of Ancient Cultures played a significant foundation role in this general movement.

The development of an archaeological collection, especially of inscriptional material, was seen as an excellent adjunct to the study of Ancient History from a source-based approach. It was also the view of our founding scholars that a collection of archaeological material that represented the every-day life of past cultures would be a very useful way to explore the arts, crafts, technology and design of ancient peoples as it reflected changes to their social, economic, political and religious development.

The exhibition area

The main display area of the Museum is divided largely on geographical grounds with some thematic displays interspersed throughout. This area, along with the Papyrus research room and the Gallery are high security areas with environmental controls to regulate temperature and relative humidity, set at international standards.

The display areas exhibit material from:

  1. Ancient Egypt - spanning from the Pre-Dynastic to the Late periods.
  2. Ancient Greek culture - from Minoan and Mycenaean material to the Hellenistic period.
  3. Ancient Roman culture - from the Villanovan and Etruscan periods to the fifth century AD.
  4. The culture of Ancient Cyprus - from Early Cypriot to the Late Iron Ages.
  5. Some of the cultures of the Ancient Near East - from the early 3rd millennium BC to the Late Iron Age.

While most of the collection belongs to the University, we also have loan material made available to us by other organisations, such as the Australian Museum and the Australian Institute of Archaeology. In the past, we have also had loan material from the Powerhouse Museum and the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney, as well as from private individuals and collectors. We are grateful for this loan material and thank our lenders for their consideration and support.

Over the years we have also been fortunate to acquire material through benefaction and donation from both individuals as well as from funds provided by supporting organisations such as the History Teachers' Association (NSW), the Macquarie Ancient History Association (MAHA) and the Society for the Study of Early Christianity (SSEC).

We publicly acknowledge the on-going support of our donors, benefactors and supporting organisations, and thank them for it.

The papyrus collection

The Museum holds the largest papyrus collection in the southern hemisphere with material written in Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphs, hieratic, Hebrew and Coptic.

This is housed in a purpose-built research room. The papyrus fragments are stored horizontally, sandwiched between sheets of cleaned, 3mm glass in specially adapted metal cabinets. The trays of these cabinets, which are powder coated and have no off-gassing, are lined with acid free paper to cushion the stored, sandwiched papyrus fragments. These are arranged numerically in the cabinets.

In 2008 a papyrus subcommittee to the MAC Management Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Dr Trevor Evans with Dr Malcolm Choat as Deputy Chair; both of these academics are Core appointments to the University. This subcommittee has developed a publication schedule for the collection, is coordinating research projects linked to the collection and coordinates requests by interested academics for joint or individual research and publication requests.

Any such requests, or for further information about the papyrus collection, please contact Dr Evans at

The Gallery

The Museum has a small space as a Gallery for short-term exhibitions. The 2018 exhibition schedule includes:

City of Rome - March to June 2018

Animals in Ancient Cultures - June to September 2018

Faking it: Forgeries and Artefacts in Dialogue - September to December 2018

When Cultures Clash?: The collaboration of cultures in Ancient Israel - December 2018 to April 2019

Donations and benefactions

If you or your company would like to make a tax-deductible donation to the Museum, or if you would like to make a benefaction to the University, to support the Museum, by making a provision in your will, please contact the museum at

The Foundation for the Study of Ancient Cultures

This Foundation was set up using a very generous donation by Mrs Monica Anderson to support the growth, development and expansion of activities by the Museum of Ancient Cultures.

Donations to this Foundation are tax-deductible.

If you would like to make a donation to this Foundation or would like to set up a Foundation of your own on behalf of your family or company to help the further development of the Museum, please contact the museum on (02) 9850 9263 or e-mail

The Sir Asher Joel Foundation

The Sir Asher Joel Foundation promotes the study of the archaeology and history of Ancient Israel. It supports the association between Macquarie University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv university, supports MQ students participating in archaeological digs and research projects in Israel and brings international experts on ancient Israel to Australia.

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